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Changing how we approach work

Enough has been said about Google’s 20% time for personal pet projects and the different products that have come out of these projects for Google.

A lot of other organizations try and adapt in their own way and implement it in their organizations. However, not many have been successful.

Last week, 37Signals.com, on their blog announced that they are going to give a month off to all their employees (except for support teams, which will participate, which will be on top of their existing work.

A month off, and an option to work on any project that you want, with any one you want (or alone)!

Now, I am sure that a lot of nice cool things could come out of such an experiment! However, a question that I want to ask is the following:

  • What could be the underlying reason for the success of such initiatives?
  • Why is it so difficult to implement such a simple idea in any organization (based on the number of attempts I’ve seen in so many organizations, I think this just end’s up as a nice to have announced initiative and nothing substantial ever come’s out of the exercise)

I think the most important factors for success of such programs could be the following:

  • Great hiring process, which ensures that the people who are being hired are the best people to work with and not just someone who could fit a role based on a job description. I’ve known people being hired simply because there could be a hiring freeze looming in the short term and its better to have someone than to have no-one. And so, you get people whom you would not have hired in the first place and can’t completely trust to do a  great job.
  • Complete trust on the employees once they are on-board: If you hire well, then you can and should completely trust that these people will fit-in and give their 100% to the organization. Most importantly, everyone respects each other as they all know that everyone of them in the organization is there as they deserved to  be there.
  • Peer pressure: Once you hire the best people, completely trust them and announce a program (like 20% free time @ google) or a schedule (like the one announced by 37signals.com), people want to work on something that they are passionate about it. Also, there is a lot of peer pressure building up as no-one wants to let their team down and want to pull their weight.

All of these, in combination, can ensure that employee empowerment programs will result in substantial results and gains.

There are other examples of such programs working really well in the gaming industry as well. You can read a story about Double fine or Bethesda.

Now, the questions to ask are the following:

  • Why only one month or a  fortnight or a 20% of time for employees to explore ?
  • What happens when an organization decides to take this approach to work all through the year?
  • Will this bring in a lot more confusion, chaos ?
  • Does this mean that the CEO or the CTO will also need to pitch their ideas to everyone else and they will not necessarily be a part of the next release?
  • What happens when an organization decides to emulate the heart-beat – a fort-night of prototyping and developing concepts and pitching, followed by a month of development, testing and beta release, followed by the next fort-night of prototyping and on and one… Is this the true form of lean product development? Not sure if many organizations can follow this.. However, i believe that if someone did, then they would have one hell of a product and would be one hell of an organization to work for

What do you think about this approach to work? Do you think it could work well? What would be the neccessary conditions for this to work well?

Do let us know by your comments..


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